Three years from now, traffic on Interstate 94 should consistently flow closer to the speed limit of 70 mph between Maple Grove and Clearwater than it does now.
Until then, driving that 39-mile segment will be one royal road construction headache.
Starting this summer and lasting through 2021, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will carry out three projects simultaneously, spending $350 million to put in additional travel lanes, rebuild bridges and resurface deteriorating pavement.
The goal is to keep the current number of travel lanes in each direction open during construction, but motorists can expect reduced speeds, lane closures and occasional diversions onto shoulders and medians. Those shifts could exacerbate traffic jams that already form most weekday mornings and afternoons and on summer weekends when the highway is a key route to cabin country.
“When it’s all done, it will be really nice, but it will be a pain while it happens,” said Steve Bot, St. Michael city administrator and chairman of the I-94 West Corridor Coalition, which pushed for the projects. “I-94 is the lifeblood of Minnesota for commerce and the community.”
Drivers will see a variety of projects underway on the highway that carries more than 110,000 vehicles daily.
MnDOT will rehabilitate concrete and add a fourth travel lane between Hwy. 610 in Maple Grove and Hwy. 101 in Rogers to eliminate bottlenecks that have formed since Hwy. 610 was connected to I-94 two years ago. The agency also will build a new interchange east of Brockton Lane.
Farther west, MnDOT will put in a third lane between St. Michael and Albertville. It also will reconstruct ramps at County Road 19 in Albertville and build a loop ramp leading from westbound I-94 to southbound Hwy. 241 in St. Michael. That should take pressure off the existing ramp that can’t handle the current traffic volume, said Project Manager Claudia Dumont.
Work between Monticello and Clearwater includes adding a third travel lane and rehabilitating 14 miles of pavement where joints are failing and “it feels like driving on rumble strips,” she said.
MnDOT does not have funding to add a third lane between Albertville and Monticello, but that is on its wish list, Dumont said.
Pat Adkins, who manages the Kwik Trip station at I-94 and Hwy. 241 in St. Michael, says he’ll welcome anything that will allow easier access to his business. Currently, traffic waiting to get on to I-94 stacks up and often blocks drivers from getting in or out of the station, he said.
“Access is tough,” he said. “Semi trucks can’t get on the road, and they are just waiting and waiting.”
Much of the work on I-94 was moved up by more than a year after MnDOT received federal money to pay for the new interchange at Dayton Parkway, just north of Hwy. 610. MnDOT also is using money from the Corridors of Commerce program, which is funding allocated by the Legislature to eliminate bottlenecks on highways with high freight traffic.
People can learn more about the project at public meetings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 29. A meeting at Monticello Community Center will cover the project between Monticello and Clearwater. A meeting at Maple Grove Community Center will cover the project between Maple Grove and Rogers.